Teen awarded $8.5 million in vaccine case
By Robert Patrick and Tim O'Neil
Of the Post-Dispatch
A St. Louis jury awarded a teen $8.5 million late Thursday for injuries he said
were linked to a polio vaccination 18 years ago.
The lawsuit alleged that Cortez Strong, 18, contracted polio after he received
an oral vaccine as an infant. Lawyers for Strong, who lives near Tower Grove
Park in St. Louis, say he has limited use of his left arm and right hand.
Strong sued American Cyanamid Co., maker of the vaccine, and Dr. Georgia
Santo-Jawaid, his former pediatrician in 1999. She formerly worked with a
doctors’ group in the 3900 block of South Grand Boulevard, where Strong
received the second dose of medicine when he was four months old.
Jurors gave Strong the full $8.5 million he asked for -- $1.5 million for past
pain and suffering, $2 million for future missed earnings and $5 million for
future pain. Strong, who currently works as a courtesy clerk at a Shop ‘n Save
in Maplewood, turned down $50,000 from a vaccine compensation fund in order to
sue, said one of his lawyers, Thomas Germeroth.
Jurors agreed with Strong’s lawyers, who alleged that American Cyanamid
produced a defective vaccine that caused him to contract polio.
Germeroth told jurors during closing arguments Thursday that the youth faces a
grim future of low-paying jobs because of his handicaps. Strong sat in the back
of the courtroom during the arguments.
Germeroth added: "This company kicked him down.... This jury should make (the
company) lift him back up.”
Germeroth said proof of the vaccine’s defect is Strong’s condition. “It caused
this boy to have the paralysis it was supposed to prevent. That’s defective,”
Also representing Strong was Stanley Kops of Philadelphia, who has sued
American Cyanamid in other, similar cases. Kops argued that the company did not
properly test its vaccines as it made them.
Dave Donovan, lawyer for the company, said it had long been known there was a
slight but “unavoidable risk” to oral polio vaccine. He said the company
carefully manufactured and tested the product.
Strong also said that Dr. Santo-Jawaid did not warn Strong’s mother, Alesia
Allen, of the risks of taking oral vaccine or offer him an alternative vaccine.
Tad Eckenrode, lawyer for Santo-Jawaid, said the doctor made a point of telling
all patients about the risks. “She did what every other doctor in America told
patients in 1987,” Eckenrode said.
After the verdict, Eckenrode said “We’re obviously pleased. We’re all still
rather stunned by the size of the damage award.” Eckenrode said that he has
seen people with “staggering” injuries awarded much less.
Wyeth spokesman Doug Petkus said: “We’re disappointed with the verdict and we
disagree with the verdict. We believe we have very strong grounds for appeal
and we will appeal.”
Petkus said there had been few cases like Strong’s, “so I can’t compare (the
jury award) to anything.”
American Cyanamid was bought in 1994 and now is part of Wyeth Pharmaceuticals.